If it were not for a thunderstorm that struck Martin Luther with the fear of death, he was bound to become a lawyer. The parallel truths of his wretchedness and God’s holiness became etched into his mind, like a chisel into stone, which evoked torment within him.
Trying to reconcile these two truths nearly crushed him.
For, how could such a holy God peaceably accept anyone among a sinful and rebellious people?
Luther’s Turmoil over Lack of Grace
Momentarily, Luther tried to solve this problem by burdening himself further. He confessed every sin as if a single un-confessed sin would be his demise. Yet, this is not all. Luther also spent countless nights awake, and hours starving or freezing himself nearly to death.
He was not yet motivated to draw near to God in thanksgiving for the grace of God. Fear of condemnation motivated him to seek God. Luther’s efforts enslaved him; and he lived in dread of his Maker.
But Luther discovered Romans 1:17, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” And God shone within his heart “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). God’s gracious revelation of the free gift of righteousness given in Jesus, freed Luther from his guilt and fueled his love for God.
The terror formerly erected in Luther’s soul slowly melted as his heart became gradually tender. Assurance, marked by unspeakable and glorious joy, unquenchable hope, and peace beyond understanding, replaced his fear. Such assurance was grounded in the free forgiveness of his trespasses through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross (Ephesians 1:7). Luther no longer stood on the sinking sand of his efforts, but on the Rock of Ages.
Paul’s Turmoil over the Desertion of Grace
Paul too relied upon his efforts to keep the law in order to be counted righteous before God, and even persecuted the Church for their belief in Jesus. But Jesus appeared before to him on the road to Damascus, revealing himself to Paul as our only hope of righteousness. Afterwards, Paul began preaching this good news.
In Galatians, Paul grieves the Church’s desertion of the grace of Christ: the distortion of the good new about Jesus that occurred in the Galatian church. His passion for the truth about Jesus burned to such an extent that Paul uttered by the Holy Spirit:
… if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed . As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9, emphasis added)
We need to be alert of anyone, whether it is an angel or a man, who preaches to us a gospel other than the truth about Jesus proclaimed by the apostles in God’s Word (Galatians 1:3-5).
[Tweet “Christ has the final say on our standing before God and he has said, “It is finished”.”]
Discernment—the ability to differentiate truth from falsehood with the Word—is vital for the health of the Church. We need to judge all things with God’s Word. Wolves in sheeps’ clothing, guided by the darkness and folly in which they dwell, are daily attempting to spoil the message that Christ is our only way to be reconciled to God (John 14:6).
In his book, Spiritual Discernment, Tim Challies describes discernment “as the church’s immune system, protecting the body from false teaching” (Challies 184). Without it, the members of the body of Christ will suffer from false doctrine, just like Luther. Eternal lives may be lost for lack of discernment.
The True Grace of God
Both Paul and Martin Luther championed the truth about the grace of God revealed to humanity in Christ: the Word made flesh, the propitiation of our sins (John 1:14, 1 John 4:9-10).
Christian brother and sister, we too can find rest in the One who loved us so immensely that he did not spare His own Son to reconcile us to himself (Romans 8:32). Man’s charges against us—including our own—don’t matter, since God justifies (v.33). The condemnation of the devil or man is no weight, since our Lord Jesus died, rose from his grave, and ascended to his throne to intercede for us (v.34). Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (v.35). For Christ has the final say on our standing before God and he has said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
We have great comfort that we, who are guilty of sin and fall short of the glory of God, are now justified by his grace as a gift (Romans 3:23-24).
We have great joy that we are righteous in the sight of God through faith in Jesus Christ, despite our rebellion against him (Romans 3:22).
We are justified before God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, and to the glory of God alone (Martin Luther).
Guarding the Good News of Grace
God graciously revealed the good news of Jesus to Paul and then later to Martin Luther, and they guarded this good deposit by the Holy Spirit given to them (2 Timothy 1:14).
For this reason, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses onto the doors of Wittenberg Castle Church to challenge the practice and theology of works righteousness, which had reared its ugly head in the form of indulgences.
As we embark into another year, let’s continue defending the good news of grace bestowed on us in Jesus Christ from those who threaten to forsake and distort it, including ourselves.
Wage war against the deceitfulness of your heart, which whispers to you that your performance determines your standing before God. Replace the lie of performance with the truth of grace—that Christ’s righteousness determines our standing before God.
God calls us to daily introspection of our hearts asking:
- What is the attitude of my heart as I approach the throne of my Heavenly Father? Is it thanksgiving and boldness stemming from faith that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)? Or fear, stemming from unbelief?
- Am I keeping alert in what I listen to, judging what I hear preached by God’s Word?
- Am I preaching to myself the true gospel of grace?
You are never beyond the reach, nor the need of God’s grace. (Jerry Bridges)